The Right Excellent Sir Alexander Clarke Bustamante, GBE, LLD First Prime Minister and National Hero of Jamaica
The Right Excellent Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante (24 February 1884 – 6 August 1977) was a Jamaican politician and labour leader who became the first prime minister of Jamaica. Bustamante is honoured in Jamaica with the title National Hero of Jamaica in recognition of his achievements.
Physically impressive, standing approximately 6’5’ with gangling gait. A strong, wiry body and shock of grey hair made him a sort of living legend to the masses whose cause he championed against the colonial powers.
Known for his terse and telling phrases that cut to the quick of things, and for remarkable stamina that made him work tirelessly all over the island, particularly at the waterfront and at the sugar estates, where there were great concentrations of people. He tended to have a dictatorial style, marked nevertheless with sparkling magnanimity.
Early life and education
On 24 February 1884, a son was born to Robert Constantine Clarke, and wife Mary nee Wilson in the district of Blenheim in the parish of Hanover, Jamaica. He was named Alexander.
Sir Alexander Bustamante attended elementary school in rural Hanover. He travelled extensively as a young man, returning to Jamaica in 1932 and began to lead the struggle against colonial rule. He first came to the public's attention as a writer of letters to the Daily Gleaner newspaper. Bustamante became treasurer of the Jamaica Workers Union (JWU) in 1937 which was founded by labour activist, Allan G.S. Coombs. He was identified as the spokesman for workers during the 1938 labour rebellion. The Jamaica Workers Union later became the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and Bustamante was dubbed, "The Chief".
On8 September 1940, Bustamante was detained at Up Park Camp, for alleged violation of the Defence of the Realm Act. He was released seventeen months later.
In 1943 he founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with himself as head. The first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage came in 1944 and the JLP won 22 of the 32 seats in the first House of Representatives which made him the unofficial leader and Minister for Communication until the position of Chief Minister was created in 1953. He held this position until the JLP was defeated in 1955.
Though initially a supporter of the Federation of the West Indies, during the 1950s, Bustamente gradually opposed the union. He agitated for Jamaica to become independent of Great Britain. He said that the JLP would not contest a by-election to the federal parliament. His rival and cousin, Premier Norman Manley, called a referendum on the issue in 1961; Jamaicans voted for the nation's withdrawal from the Federation.
After Jamaica was granted independence in 1962, Bustamante became Jamaica's first Prime Minister and served until 1967. Bustamante also held the position of Mayor of Kingston in 1947 and 1948. In 1965 he withdrew from active participation in public life, and the true power was held by his deputy, Donald Sangster.
Honours and awards
In 1969, Bustamante was proclaimed a 'National Hero of Jamaica', along with Norman Manley, the black liberationist Marcus Garvey and two leaders of the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon.
Sir Alexander died on 6 August 1977 at the age of 93. He was buried in the National Heroes Park in Kingston. Sir Alexander married Gladys Longbridge on 17 September 1962. They had no children.
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